Saskatoon, Treaty 6: Gillian Snider


(Photo by Jennifer Sparrowhawk, Intro by Michael Moser)

Those of us fortunate enough to know Gillian Snider know that she’s all heart.  It comes across in everything she does.  She will bend over backwards to help a friend, and in the six years I’ve known her she’s been there for me more times than is rightfully fair.  

Though she labours away in the service industry as a server and bartender to make ends meet, she lives for her children and for music.  As testament to her ability Gillian raised her three children single-handedly to become the well adjusted twenty-somethings they are today.  As for music, she writes it, plays a myriad of instruments (primarily accordion right now) and performs with a number of bands and jazz ensembles.  She is the centre piece of The Whiskey Jerks, an eclectic, klezmer and jazz infused rock band, and writes the lion’s share of their melodies and lyrics, but she is also an integral part of the Bass Invaders as well as The Ray Elliott Band.  You might also spot her at The Bassment singing alongside some of this city’s most talented jazz instrumentalists.

Gillian is a strong, independent woman who leads her life according to her own terms - usually with a glass of wine in hand.  It is this foundation of strength and bonhomie that make those of us that know her very lucky indeed.

KC: What kinds of projects are you involved in right now?

After years of university and raising my kids, I found myself with an MA in philosophy, a whole lot of experience in music education and choral singing, and a yearning to write songs, sing jazz and play the accordion. Consequently, all of the projects that I’m involved in now primarily
centre around music. From volunteering as a radio host on CFCR, to performing, recording and writing music with musicians that I love - all of it is tremendous fun!

Currently I’m fronting my own band called The Whiskey Jerks (we’re in the process of recording our second full length album), and I happily play accordion and sing in The Ray Elliott Band, and also in several jazz
ensembles. Another project that remains close to my heart, has been the offering of my home as music venue here in Saskatoon. I’ve had the pleasure of hosting over seventy shows so far; this has resulted in so many wonderful friendships with touring musicians from all over Canada, not
to mention the wonderful supporters of live music that come out to the shows. I’m convinced that the good energy created by the music and from every appreciative audience member has truly soaked into the very walls of my house! Saskatoon has such a thriving music scene and I’m so very grateful to be a part of it.

KC: What’s your day job? What do you like about it? What’s challenging?

I have always worked in the service industry through every chapter of my life: as a student, a single mother, a music educator, a philosophy grad student and lecturer, a government worker, and now as a musician. I’m what they call a lifer - and by choice! It’s a profession that has allowed me to meet hundreds of very cool and interesting folks over the years, and it is these lovely folks that continuously change the backdrop of every shift that I work, keeping the
dynamics of the job ever-changing and never stagnating. And, of course, it’s a job that has provided enough of an income to allow myself and my family to enjoy life, without ever controlling it. The most challenging part? Physical exhaustion.

KC: What’s important to you?

My children are. Period. Every major life decision that I’ve made has had my children in the foreground, whether or not I’ve been aware of it. Their happiness is my happiness, and their pain is my pain and although they have all grown to become strong and extraordinary adults, that never goes away.

KC: What do you like most/least about Saskatoon?

Saskatoon is a small city with a big city feel. When I first moved here from Toronto I was honestly surprised that it had everything that Toronto had, but on a smaller scale. Now, 26 years later, it has become much more multi-cultural, and, as I mentioned above, the music and arts scene is thriving. I am also overjoyed that attention is finally being paid to the city’s downtown
core, which up until recently was sadly neglected and overshadowed by suburban sprawl. I do admit, however, that I worry about gentrification - what I’ve loved about living in the heart of downtown these many years has been the diversity of folks in my neighbourhood. I’m hopeful that there will be a way to continue developing our downtown, without stripping it of its soul - because it truly is a beautiful city.

KC: What is your impression of Regina?

My first impression of Regina is that, with its high-rises, it looks like a real city. Regina also seems to have much better city planners than Saskatoon does - its Ring Road is an actual traffic circle performing the function that it’s meant to perform, unlike Circle Drive here in Saskatoon. The city does get a bad rap, it’s true, but there have been some tremendous musicians that have
come out of Regina, and I’ve always had a great time playing the music venues there. And every city has pockets of beauty, if you take the time to look for them.

KC: How do you survive the winters?

I love winter. This is a fact. And I much prefer the winters here in Saskatchewan than the winters in Toronto! Winter days are almost always sunny with a brilliant blue sky, and because it’s usually so dry, you can see every individual snowflake if you take a close look. Even on the
coldest of cold days when there are ice crystals in the air, I love to go for walks; the cold can be kept at bay if you dress for it, unlike the chill damp cold that seeps to the core of your bones in Toronto. I do admit the winters go on a bit longer than I’d like, and the falls aren’t nearly long enough, but I have to say again that I really love winter! I even wrote a song about it.

From the Proust Questionnaire: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness, pure and simple, is looking up into a beautiful sky while floating on my back in a cold, deep lake in northern Saskatchewan - with a good book and a glass of red wine waiting for me on the beach, of course.